State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) sees 2021 playing out in two parts.
With the carryover from all the public health and economic difficulties of 2021, the first few months will require continued crisis management.
The state will work to “figure out how to get vaccines [for COVID-19] to everybody, how to get schools fully open with kids going … and get businesses back open,” Gaughran said in a wide-ranging interview.
The pace at which the Empire State moves past the crisis depends in large part on the vaccine, which Gaughran described as “key.” He predicted that could occur sometime between February and April.
Up to now, the state senator said the process of getting the vaccine has been frustrating, with the website crashing. Gaughran’s office has fielded numerous calls from constituents. Some people in their 90s have called for help navigating the website, while grandchildren have also reached out on behalf of their older relatives, hoping to get an appointment for those who are among the most vulnerable to the virus.
Gaughran hopes that the vaccine supply chain will improve in the next few weeks.
The state senator believes that President Joe Biden (D) will “open up the floodgates” for the state to receive more vaccinations.
Gaughran anticipates that the process of receiving vaccinations will likely track the same course as viral testing. Initially, people struggled to get tested, often waiting for a test and then days or even a week for a result.
The state and the country have figured out how to improve testing, allowing “anybody to get a test,” he said. “I am hoping the same thing happens with the vaccine.”
The second phase of the year, which could occur around April, will involve the rebuilding of the economy, with opportunities for Long Island and New York to benefit from new directives out of the federal government including for green, alternative energy.
“We’re going to have major money for green energy jobs,” Gaughran said, with infrastructure upgrades, sewage treatment and other projects starting or expanding in 2021. “There’ll be a much stronger will coming out of Washington. We have to pump up the economy.”
New York is well positioned to capitalize on some of these economic and job opportunities, Gaughran said. That could be especially important as the government looks to support projects with considerable advanced planning.
“Whenever these grant programs are available, the states that are most prepared with shovel-ready projects and concrete plans to move forward will get the most money,” Gaughran said.
Gaughran said Long Island can build a green-energy workforce that is educated and supported by area institutions including his alma mater Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Gaughran is pleased to serve on several State Senate committees, including the Committee on Higher Education; the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions; the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations; and the Committee on Energy and Telecommunications.
Gaughran sees opportunities to advance his goals, as “being on a committee gives you an edge in pushing your legislative priorities.”
The investigations committee, which has subpoena power, can study problems in the state. Last year, that included housing discrimination.
This year, Gaughran would like to see that committee examine waste in government spending.
“We need to look at two investigations: One dealing with state budgets and state costs, [and the other] looking at local governments, where there may be waste, fraud and abuse,” he said.
As a member of the Higher Education Committee, Gaughran also hopes the committee can offer some help to Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College by “being a little bit flexible.”
Gaughran hopes these educational institutions can raise in-state tuition for those families that can afford to pay, while developing a scale that allows those who can’t afford higher costs to continue to pay their current rates.
The state senator also hopes to reignite back-burner projects.
“Let’s see how much we can front-load the timetable on fully electrifying the Long Island Rail Road to Port Jefferson,” Gaughran said. “Let’s hope there’ll be major funding for that type of a project. Instead of waiting years to do it, let’s start.”